The dilemma of privacy to public figures – feel safer in public life

Philip Grindell
Written by Philip Grindell
defuse - feel safer in a public place

According to the 2019 Sunday Times Rich list, one the of greatest concerns of the UHNW community is privacy, which to some may seem somewhat ironic as every time you go online or open the paper they are there apparently flaunting their fabulous life, and herein lies the issue for people in public life….is less really more?

From a personal safety and security perspective this presents issues, however having been focussed on keeping politicians safe for the past few years I’m acutely aware that being a public figure does actually mean being publicly available, having a presence and media is likely oxygen to them.

Being in public life means that you cannot just switch everything off and stay indoors because of the associated risks, physical and reputational, so how do you stay and feel safer in public life?

To start with, let us differentiate the term ‘pubic figure’ which now days is almost self determined, as many pseudo celebrities call themselves ‘public figures’ from those who are in ‘public life’ a term most recently used by Lord Bew in his report for the Prime Minister ‘Intimidation in Public Life’. The term Public Life is often used in relation to those in public service, such as elected figures however another definition used includes the aspects of social life which occur in public, in the open, as opposed to more private social interaction within families, private clubs, etc. A public figure has been defined as ‘a public figure is a person of great public interest or fame, such as a politician, celebrity, or sports hero’ At DEFUSE we use the terms interchangeably and in the broadest context to encapsulate all those who are ‘known’ and have a public presence, which of course does includes politicians, but equally includes celebrities, sports personalities, business leaders, well known journalists and even reality TV contestants. Each of these groups to a greater or lesser degree must maintain a public presence.

Modern life is often defined by the use of social media, with an emphasis on the word social. Almost inevitably life is posted on social media for all to see, to share our successes and to mourn our collective losses. With this comes the likelihood of criticism, insults, abuse and bullying (I look forward to mine later) and whilst I often read articles telling us to grow a thick skin, that is not as easy as it may seem for those in public life. Often it is not the individual abusive tweet or facebook message that causes harm, but the fact that the last one may be one of literally thousands and be the tipping point, rather like water eroding the riverbank…eventually the constant flow causes harm. Despite their successes, those in public life are just like the rest of use, humans with feelings, insecurities and flaws. I often hear the phrase ‘it’s not me I worry about but the effect on my family’ noble, but I’m unconvinced it is that true. The other issue that is prevalent is the fact the despite the harm caused, the cannot show it, the show must go on and they have to suck it up, smile and get on with life, even when they are actually increasingly suffering from anxiety, looking over their shoulder or absolutely terrified. With these emotions come others, such as catastrophising and becoming paranoid.

So, what can be done to feel safer in public life? Firstly, acknowledge that not everyone is going to like you, no matter how much you want them to. Secondly, recognise that those that abuse generally pose no physical harm and are usually quite sad, lonely individuals.

The term generally is used ‘with intent’ and this is not, of course, always the case. Some communications provide evidence of what are termed ‘red flags’ or indicators, such as end of tether language as in ‘you leave me with no other option but to….’ Or ‘Leakage’ a somewhat unpleasant term which in effect means that the person ‘leaks’ their intent to others bu rarely to the target. The linguists of threats are a somewhat specialist subject and best left to the experts, such as DEFUSE.

The key issue here is that if as a public future, you are subjected to communicated threats, engage with us at DEFUSE and we will ensure that the communications are correctly interpreted and where appropriate the necessary mitigation is provided.

The reality is that people follow public figures and/or the places they go. If, as a public figure, you are visiting your club, or a great restaurant, resist the temptation of telling the world by ‘checking in’ or tweeting where you are. DEFUSE advises clients to tell the world where you have been, not where you are now or where you are going. There have been many occasions when the same person that happily communicated their whereabouts is less pleased when several hours later they leave with someone they really didn’t want to be photographed with, or in a state that damages their reputation or worse still, they find themselves at risk of physical attack or crime.

Whilst a bodyguard may have its uses, and it is worth emphasising that in the UK they are all unarmed unless actively unlawfully, they will not prevent online abuse and will often attract rather that deter attention. A good example is a public figure who left a very famous venue with his protection team only to be ‘welcomed’ by a group of very professional ‘hugger muggers’ appearing to all as a group of jolly possibly slightly drunk revellers, only to then high five the client and remove his £100k watch without anyone noticing. It could have been so much worse.

The same rules can apply when you are staying in a hotel or booking tickets to see a show, and yet want to avoid the invasion of your privacy, again DEFUSE can manage these occasions.

Of course, there will always be times when you need to publicise where you are going to be, because you need the exposure and want to the media to cover the event. That can be managed quite easily, and your safety and privacy still ensured.

The bottom line is that if you want to maintain your privacy, you may need to make some minor changes to how you currently live, but like everything they need to be proportionate and necessary and before long, you wont even notice the difference.

Remember, if in doubt contact DEFUSE and feel safer in public life.

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